It’s the third week of January. What resolutions did you make this New Year? How many times have you thought about or in some way observed these resolutions in the three weeks since you made them?
If you haven’t given your Near Year’s resolutions much thought since you set them, don’t feel bad — you’re not alone! Some research indicates that as few as 8 percent of resolution-making Americans are successful at achieving what they set out to do. There are a couple of reasons that so few people follow through with resolutions. First, resolutions tend to fall flat over time because most of us set a resolution that sounds a lot like a goal. We’ll use the all-too-common weight-loss-related resolution as an example. “I’m going to lose 10 pounds” is a perfect example of a resolution that is goal-oriented. The problem with this type of resolution is that most of us don’t put in place a process for losing those 10 pounds. Most of us simply say that we want to lose them. Resolutions also have a low success rate because we are setting ourselves up for failure. We often set resolutions that are too lofty and out of sync with our lives, thus making them unrealistic.
The issue with the setting of these unrealistic goals every New Year is that we have also inadvertently set ourselves up for an unnecessary blow to our self-perceptions and possibly even our self-esteem (i.e., “I never finish what I start”). Ultimately, the setting and accomplishing of resolutions can be an unfair gauge for judging our own performances over the course of a year, but in setting and then not accomplishing the resolution, we — either unconsciously or consciously — observe ourselves as failing at something.
It’s not difficult to figure that most of us set New Year’s resolutions because it is part of a societal norm and a good way to feel initially motivated about the year ahead and the notion of a fresh start. Unfortunately, this norm doesn’t include a good plan for implementation, which is really what is required to accomplish any goal. Think about it: If a heart surgeon goes into surgery with a goal of unclogging an artery but has no game plan for when he gets in there, chances are the surgery won’t be successful. On the other hand, if that same surgeon knows which artery is clogged, what tools are needed and what method will be used before beginning the surgery, that surgery is probably going to be a successful one.
Chances are your New Year’s resolution isn’t a matter of life and death but why not apply the same principles? Try this: Identify one thing you would like to improve upon or change (trying to make multiple changes at once is typically unsustainable) and begin by writing out what steps are necessary to implement the change. Be certain that you are thinking small-scale here and make sure there isn’t an expectation that every step be implemented all at once. It is a better idea for step two to start a few weeks or even a month after step one and for step three to kick in a month or so after step two and so on and so on.
In keeping with the losing-10-pounds objective, a good step one might be grocery shopping weekly so that you can make two or three healthy meals a day at home. After you have been able to keep with this routine for several weeks, step two can then be enacted. A realistic step two may be to try out several types of exercise classes to determine what form of physical activity you find most enjoyable. The following month, step three may be to then attend your favorite class once a week. Step four might then be to increase the frequency with which you work out to twice a week. And it can continue from there.
Do you see how having a plan and going one step at a time feels more sustainable? By the time step four or five comes around, we’re already looking at April or May. Suddenly, it doesn’t feel so difficult to imagine that a New Year’s resolution could still be in play by summer.
It’s the third week of January. Don’t get discouraged if you haven’t done a good job of implementing or even remembering your New Year’s resolutions so far. Instead, grab a piece of paper and take a few minutes to set a game plan for your resolution. Post it on the refrigerator or set alarms on your phone so you’re alerted of when it’s time to begin the next step towards reaching your goal.
Good luck and don’t forget to be kind to yourself!
Kristina Furia is a psychotherapist specializing in issues and concerns of the LGBTQ community in addition to depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other mental illnesses. Her private practice, Philadelphia LGBTQ Counseling, offers both individual and couples sessions (www.lgbtphillytherapy.com).
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